2 Jul 2014

Officer didn't tell victim of death threat

5:49 pm on 2 July 2014

A police officer called out after a mentally disturbed patient escaped from hospital before killing a former neighbour says he should have taken the escape more seriously.

Hiram Higgins has given evidence at the inquest of Diane White, who was murdered by Christine Morris in January 2010. The 53-year-old was hit with a hammer in a frenzied attack at her Hamilton home.

Two years later, Morris was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life, with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years. She is a paranoid schizophrenic with a borderline personality disorder.

The inquest was told Mr Higgins and a colleague received a call that Morris has escaped from Waikato Hospital's mental health unit and might be on her way to kill Mrs White, who she had made threats about earlier.

Mr Higgins, who has now left the police, said they went to the street where Morris used to live, couldn't find her, but did talk to neighbours including Mrs White.

He said Mrs White said Morris was all talk and that she didn't appear at all worried.

Mr Higgins said he wanted Mrs White to know that Morris was out and she was a real threat, but said he didn't tell her that Morris had specifically threatened to kill her.

Loophole allowed escape

Coroner Peter Ryan on Wednesday questioned the lack of powers medical specialists have to detain mental health patients.

Christine Morris was a voluntary patient at the mental health unit at the time of the attack on Diane White.

Her psychiatrist told the inquest that, on hearing Morris was threatening Mrs White's life, he wanted to commit her using a compulsory order.

He said before the paperwork could be completed he had no power to restrain her.

The doctor, who has name suppression, agreed with Mr Ryan that it was a loophole in the law and a similar incident could easily happen again.

Mr Ryan said he would consider making a recommendation in his final report about ways to close the loophole.